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May 1, 2014

Speaker Placement: Unusual Room Layouts and Elevating Speakers

Filed under: Audio Knowledge — Andrew Welker @ 10:31 am

Today we’re going to be doing our last video in this series that talks about the basics of loudspeaker placement. We’ll come back to it again if we get some more questions that we didn’t cover. But today we’re going wrap it up by talking about different sized rooms and different layouts, and things that you can try when setting up your speakers.

We’ve already covered the basic floorstanding positioning, toe-in, bookshelf speakers – whether they’re mounted on stands or bookshelves – center channels, subwoofers and so on. Today we’re going to talk about what happens if you have a very large room, a very small room, a rectangular room or a square room: what should you do in those environments.

Rectangular Rooms:  We’ll start with what is most typical: a rectangular-shaped room where you’ll have a long wall and a short wall. There is some argument as to where you should ideally position your system: whether you should put them on the short wall firing down the length of the room, or whether you should be in the near field and on the long wall. That’s going to give you a little bit different perspective. Placing the speakers on the short wall on the narrow dimension of a rectangular room is going to limit the width and the overall soundstage size to a certain extent. But it can also result in more room-filling sound for a smaller seating area.

If it’s possible and your room is wide enough, I tend to prefer doing the set up on the long wall. You may be sitting a little bit closer to the speakers, but what will happen is that now the main sidewall reflections are further away from the speaker, and they will aid in the size and enveloping sense of space with your loudspeaker setup.

Square Rooms:  If you’ve got a square room, unfortunately that’s pretty much the worst case scenario when it comes to a basic room acoustics. Any standing waves or any nodes that occur along one dimension of the room will also occur on the other dimension of the room, at the same sorts of frequencies. So those rooms can be quite difficult. One of the things you can try there (if you have the option and aesthetically it works for you) is to actually mount the system with the center point between the speakers being one of the corners of the room. So you’re essentially mounting the speakers on the walls that are coming out diagonally from that corner.

That can actually give you a better level of balance, particularly at low frequencies, if you’re stuck with one of these square-shaped rooms.

Small Rooms:  An acoustically small room is one where the longest wall is less than 14 feet. In those environments, you’re going to be listening in the near field – there’s nothing you can do about that. In some cases, you’re going to be forced to have your listening position right up against the back wall. Unfortunately that’s really bad acoustically for getting a large amount of bass and mid-bass loading.

If you’re forced into that situation, try pulling your couch out from that back wall – even if it’s just six inches or so – rather than having it stuck right up against it. You’ll tend to get better balance in that situation. All of the other things apply that apply in large rooms, in terms of toe-in, how far apart the speakers are, and so on. You can look into our previous video recommendations on those set up points.

One of the other things you’re going to find in a small room is that you may be limited a little bit in the soundstage size, so when it comes to things like toe-in, you may want to actually toe the speakers in a little bit less than you would in a larger listening environment. In some cases, having the speakers firing straight ahead will actually give you a better sense of space in a small room.

Elevating Speakers:  We had a question from one of our message board members asking when you might want to raise the level of speakers off the floor slightly: floorstanders and subwoofers. There are only two cases where I would attempt that with Floorstanding speakers. One of them is if you’ve got an extremely high or extremely low listening seat, and you can’t seem to get good balance, because you’re way off the vertical balance of the high frequency drivers of the loudspeaker. In that case, you can try raising the speaker up a little bit, or ideally if you can, modify the listening position further away from the speaker.

What will happen if you actually raise a floorstanding speaker up off the floor is you’ll change what’s called the floor bounce, which has a huge impact on the mid-bass response of the speaker. When we design a speaker and doing the listen test we assume that the floor is where it is: right below the bottom of the cabinet. As soon as you raise it, you’re going to modify that floor bounce and get somewhat unpredictable results.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t try it, and in some cases it’s going to work well, but it’s not something I’d recommend for a typical setup.

Subwoofers: same thing applies. The lower that woofer can be and the closer to the floor it can be, the better coupling to the room you’re going to get. So overall I wouldn’t recommend changing the height of those speakers, and with subwoofers most of the frequencies are omnidirectional anyway so having it fire closer to ear level isn’t really going to help anything, it’s just modifying the interaction of the subwoofer with the room.

Did we miss anything that you wanted to cover? Reach out to us on the Axiom Message Boards and let us know! We’ll be happy to answer your questions or record more videos on this topic.

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